Cyber Monday: Project Shadowchaser Trilogy

Frank Zagarino dies hard!

Cinemasochism: Black Mangue (2008)

Braindead zombies from Brazil!

The Gweilo Dojo: Furious (1984)

Simon Rhee's bizarre kung fu epic!

Adrenaline Shot: Fire, Ice and Dynamite (1990)

Willy Bogner and Roger Moore stuntfest!

Sci-Fried Theater: Dead Mountaineer's Hotel (1979)

Surreal Russian neo-noir detective epic!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

This Bud's for You: BIG MAN: DRUG POLICY (1988)

By the mid-1980s the profitable partnership between iconic screen duo Bud Spencer and Terence Hill was coming to an end. Starting with GOD FORGIVES, I DON’T (1967), the pair would co-star in 16 films over the next 18 years. (Note: The duo did reunite in 1994 for THE FIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS.) Amazingly, while operating as a popular on-screen combo, both men also had success in their own features. Hill got a Hollywood call up with the 20th Century Fox production MR. BILLION (1977) and SUPER FUZZ (1980), while Spencer headlined popular films such as four entries in the FLATFOOT series and two sci-fi movies (1979's THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID and its sequel 1980's WHY PICK ON ME?) co-starring the kid from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977). However, after MIAMI SUPERCOPS (1985), both men went their separate cinematic ways. Hill reunited with TRINITY director Enzo Barboni (aka E.B. Clucher) to make the modern action-comedy RENEGADE (1987). Spencer remained with their other director, Bruno Corbucci, to make the much-maligned ALADDIN (1986). And despite television increasing their popularity worldwide, neither man had explored that medium until now. 

Interestingly, according to Variety, producer Elio Scardamaglia - who had previously worked with Spencer on films like CHARLESTON (1977) - was looking to sign Spencer to a TV series called THE OFFICE OF UNSOLVED CASES for RAI in May 1986. So going to the boob tube suddenly seemed a viable option; that or the acrid reviews of ALADDIN told him he needed to get back to basics quick. Either way, by October 1986 Spencer had committed to BIG MAN for the Cecchi Gori Group and Silvio Berlusconi’s ReteItalia. (Yes, the same Silvio Berlusconi who later became the Prime Minister of Italy and resigned in disgrace; we’d like to think it was for not making Bud Spencer’s birthday a national holiday). When first announced the series was pitched as a dozen one-hour episodes. By the time filming began in spring 1987, the production had settled down for a more manageable six feature length films. Since its inception the director attached has always been Stefano Vanzina. Credited mostly by the moniker Steno, he had a history with Spencer as he had directed him in the FLATFOOT series. Who better to guide Spencer into this new foray than someone who had guided him as Inspector “Flatfoot” Rizzo? However, this time his enquiries would take place outside of law enforcement as Spencer now became insurance investigator Jack Clementi for this new series. 

BIG MAN rumbled onto Italian televisions in November 1988 with the first episode, DRUG POLICY. The plot kicks into gear quickly as a drug shipment is confiscated at an Italian airport. Back in London, the stiff upper lips at the insurance house Lloyd’s of London are freaking out because the FBI has informed them that they have been handling policies that insure the drug shipments. Mr. Winterbottom (Geoffrey Copleston) decides they need to hire Jack “The Professor” Clementi (Spencer), an insurance investigator who “is extravagant, but his methods work.” Clementi is introduced residing in a seaside hotel on the French Riviera where his favorite pastime is complaining about the cooking of his landlady, Fernande (Mylène Demongeot). He gets the call from Lloyd’s and soon has his driver/right hand man Simon Lecoq (Denis Karvil) driving him to the airport. Once in Rome, Italy, he meets up with old pal Inspector Caruso (Raymond Pellegrin, who played a lawyer in the first FLATFOOT film), who cheerfully states “the moment you are here trouble starts.” Hey, that should be good for business!

Back at his hotel, Clementi is surprised by Simon’s arrival and he quickly assigns him the task of locating the woman whose luggage contained the drugs. Clementi dives into his investigation and apparently the filmmakers wanted to go for realism as it involves lots of Bud pounding the pavement and talking on phones. Looooooots. Clementi finds about an arrested courier named Francesco and learns from him about another dealer named Yoko the Tunisian. Unfortunately, Yoko is dead when he gets to him and Clementi is beaten by some thugs who want to know his reason for being there. He convinces them he was looking for a smuggling job and Clementi soon finds himself a drug courier headed to Palermo. His point-of-contact in that city is a streetwise 8-year-old named “Sewer Rat” (Antonino Licausi). “I’ll call you Sam,” Clementi says and then assures they will be “pals for life” to the kid. His definition of “for life” must be different than mine as the kid apparently isn’t in any other episodes of the show. Hey, didn’t I also get the “kid” episode from WE ARE ANGELS? What is going on here, boss man?

Clementi gets back to Rome and completes the clandestine trade of the drugs for 800 million lira. Amazingly, Inspector Caruso is a bit peeved Clementi put that much heroin onto the street, but Jack can’t be bothered with pesky details like that. Damn, his methods are extravagant! Anyway, all of this investigating leads Clementi to the drug kingpin, Don Carmelo (Armand Meffre). We know he is evil because he eats cannoli by the plate full. Oh, and he also has anyone within a whiff of his operation snuffed out. With Clementi closing in, Carmelo knows the only way to get the big man to back off and kidnaps his new BFF Sam. This results in the episode’s only big action as we get a car chase toward the end as Clementi kidnaps the Don to get the kid back.

True story: We originally planned to write up the BIG MAN series after we did the EXTRALARGE series four years ago. However, both Tom and I watched it and came to the conclusion we weren’t feeling it. It is not that BIG MAN is terrible, but the opening episode is a bit of a drag compared to Spencer’s later TV efforts. For whatever reason, the makers decided to play it almost 100% straight, forgetting that one of the things folks appreciated from Spencer’s films (both solo and with Terence Hill) was the comedy. Oh, and some action. Spencer does have a couple of Spencer-esque fights, but they are pretty short. It also didn’t help that the plot wasn’t very engaging. It is the basic “go find this guy, get info, find this girl, get info, find this guy” template. By the end I had no idea what was going on, even when they have Spencer doing a MURDER, SHE WROTE style wrap up in the Lloyd’s boardroom. If there is any positive here, it is that things can only get better after the first entry. Perhaps the biggest highlight of this episode is the opening credits, which delivers a memorable theme song by the De Angelis brothers and promises more fisticuffs and head slappin’ down the line (as pal Mark Tinta said, “That intro needed more Spencer punching. I was waiting for him to punch his own face in that last shot.”) Check it out below and then find yourself humming it for the rest of the day.

Monday, February 26, 2018

This Bud's for You: WE ARE ANGELS (1997) Complete Series

Here is an easy way to navigate our coverage of Bud Spencer and Philip Michael Thomas' WE ARE ANGELS, the complete series. We hope you enjoy reading our coverage as much as we did writing them!

Stars Bud Spencer and Philip Michael Thomas
Directed by Ruggero Deodato

Guest stars: David Hess, Kabir Bedi

Guest stars: Marc Macaulay, Kabir Bedi

Guest stars: Erik Estrada, Richard Liberty

Guest stars: David Hess, Kabir Bedi

Guest star: Richard Lynch, Ty Hardin

Guest stars: Carlo Reali, Sabryn Genet

Click here for our coverage of Bud Spencer and Philip Michael Thomas'/Michael Winslow series' DETECTIVE EXTRALARGE (1992) and EXTRA LARGE (1993) and Bud Spencer's BIG MAN (1988).

Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Bud's for You: WE ARE ANGELS: DOLLARS (1997)

Damn, are we at the end already? Yup, the WE ARE ANGELS series was pretty limited in that we only got six feature length episodes. But I’ll be damned if the writers didn’t try to pack in at least 56 plot lines into these shows. DOLLARS is no exception so hold onto your hats for some twists and turns that result in our beloved Father Orso (Bud Spencer) and Father Zach (Philip Michael Thomas) helping overthrow the corrupt Costa Rican government. Yes, really.

This episode starts with Orso and Zach again making one of their now customary trips up river to the city to do work for the monks. Before they leave, Lupita (Mariana Mora) gives Zach a letter to deliver to her father, Lt. Pedro. Naturally, our mock monks are more worried about how they are going to get the extra $8,000 they owe Sagreste (Max Herbrechter) for their plane. They literally receive good fortune when they find a wallet with over $9,000 laying in the middle of the sidewalk. With no ID inside, the boys decide it is another example of divine intervention and proceed to freely spend the cash. They get Father Campana a bunch of cigars and splurge on a multi-course meal (watch for a funny bit where Spencer sips from the finger bowl). Of course, they’re not total hedons and drop some dough on a bunch of toys for the kids in the village. This act draws the attention of a couple of vacationing FBI agents (!) and Orso and Zach split, thinking they’ve been spotted as escaped criminals. What they don’t know is they are peddling some funny money.

The counterfeit bills are produced by an artist simply referred to as Frenchman (because he wears a beret?), the official portrait painter of the President of Costa Rica. It turns out that President Aneto (Carlo Reali) has a plan for these fake bills as he wants to use them against the United States and “bend their economy to my power.” Hey, you can’t fault him for being ambitious, if not slightly deluded. So he doesn’t take kindly to his employee spending the money freely or the FBI poking its head around just as the U.S. Secretary of State is planning a visit. He orders his men Ruiz and Ortega to take out the FBI guys. Also, just so you know this guy is evil, he is introduced listening to a lady sing an opera aria. *shivers in fear*

Meanwhile, Orso and Zach are completely oblivious they are walking around with crooked currency until they pay off their balance to Sagreste, who immediately spots the fake bills. To make matters even worse, the FBI agents arrest them as accomplices. While Orso and Zach try to explain how they got wrapped up in this at a restaurant, Ruiz and and female assassin (Sabryn Genet) show up and kill the two FBI men. Or so they think as one of them survives. Rather than split, Orso and Zach decided to investigate and go to the hospital to talk to the FBI guy. Of course, they arrive minutes after the assassins finished the job and end up being seen as the killers. Now they have to figure this all out. Not sure why they wouldn’t just skedaddle back to the safety and anonymity of the village, but then we wouldn’t have a show.

Luckily for them, Sagreste is the cousin of Lt. Pedro (small world!) and they locate the Frenchman via his mugshot. Of course, they arrive to talk to him (dressed as plumbers) at the same time the assassins are taking him away on a bus. Hey, didn’t I say this was going to get complicated? Okay, here we go. The Frenchman ends up dead on the street (following a rather scary looking bus stunt) and Orso and Zach search his trashed place. In addition to finding a dispensable assassin’s dead body in the fridge (Bud grabs a beer from his cold, dead hand to sip) they locate the hidden plates for making the fake money. Figuring they need to get the authorities involved, they agree to have Sagreste deliver the plates to a judge who is a “friend of the people.” Of course, anyone with that nickname in a movie is a turncoat and he has Sagreste kidnapped. With Sagreste MIA, our dedicated duo finally go to Lt. Pedro, also delivering Lupita’s letter. Unfortunately, Pedro goes into a rage when he reads it as she said she wants to marry Zach. He throws the two in the slammer, where it is ultimately revealed he has found out they are fake monks (their wanted posters - literally just drawings with no information on them - hang in the lobby). But when Pedro finds out his relative Sagreste has been kidnapped, he agrees to let the guys out as they concoct a plan to stop Aneto. How? Why they’re going back to their old revolutionary pal, Napoleon Duarte (Kabir Bedi).

Good lord! Remember when I said this one would get confusing? I actually got a headache just typing out that plot write up. And I even left out the finale chase that takes place in an opera house. DOLLARS decides we need everything from geopolitical and social commentary to corruption to comedy. It has something for the entire family, especially if your family loves a little serious torture in your entertainment. Yes, at one point we get into serious MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978) territory when Sagreste is kidnapped and tortured by Aneto’s thugs. It is easily the darkest moment of the series, especially at the end where Orso and Zach have just completed a comedic brawl in an opera house and then they visit Sagreste curled up in a fetal position in fear. Deodato!

As Tom mentioned in his previous review, this is actually the fifth episode in terms of airing, but we are reviewing it last as he kindly acquiesced to my strong-arm tactics (hey, I learned how to torture from Aneto, what can I say). The truth is both episodes end with kind of a finality seen in a series ender. DUST ends with Spencer’s character getting his own personal redemption, while this one neatly wraps up the recurring people’s revolution storyline with the leads declaring they are now considered “heroes” for their help in overthrowing a dictatorship. Either way, this one closes with our two leads finally getting their plane and seemingly heading to freedom in Miami. In an extra bit of effort, they fly over the village and drop gifts to everyone they have now grown to love. Father Campana gets his cigars (he scolds people for desiring material things before realizing someone has his cigars), Father Raphael gets some paint brushes, and Lupita gets some flowers. Hell, they even parachute some bananas to a monkey. The final shot freezes on both men smiling knowing they have finally achieved their goals and actually done some good in the world.

We may never know if another series of films was planned for WE ARE ANGELS, but it seems unlikely. It is a shame as the chemistry between Spencer and Thomas was great here and further adventures would have been welcomed. However, Bud was pushing 70-years-old by this time and essentially retired from the bustin’ heads business after this. He did a few small parts between 1998 and 2004 and only logged in two more features; he did a kinder looking kids movie TRE PER SEMPRE (1998) and reunited with Deodato for the TV drama FATHER HOPE (2005). Spencer ended his storied career with the limited series RECIPE FOR CRIME (2010). However, don’t worry as our Budsploitation is only beginning. We’re fans of the big maaaaan so look for more reviews in the near future.

Monday, February 19, 2018

This Bud's for You: WE ARE ANGELS: DUST (1997)

After surviving the dreaded "precocious child syndrome" of the previous entry, LUCK IS RAINING FROM THE SKY, we return to more manly pursuits. Like chasing girls, getting revenge and shooting people with coconuts.

As we quickly find out, the "dust" in the title refers to gold dust, as a scoutmaster unexpectedly finds a vein of gold that runs from his troop's campsite in the jungle all the way through our troubled tabernacle of San Rolando. In addition to abusing his authority with the kids (he always wins at painball wars), he is just a lousy human being in general. Instead of being a generous soul and telling the padres of their good fortune, he promptly takes this news to the local crime lord, Don Alfonso Santillana (Richard Lynch), who in turn heads straight to the bishop of the diocese with a cash offer to buy the mission and village. His angle is that he is going to build a resort there which will benefit the entire area, as well as the church's coffers. Naturally the bishop thinks this is just a dandy idea and signs over the now doomed San Rolando!

Meanwhile, Father Zach is having a complete meltdown after suffering from a massive case of "Budus Interruptus" while trying (again) to put the unholy moves on the innocent, but beautiful Lupita, who also happens to be the daughter of the local police chief. Aside from not wanting to blow their cover, the last thing the phony Father Orso wants is more trouble with la policia, or the rest of the village for that matter. Father Zach loses his shit so completely that he runs screaming into the chapel shouting "I need a woman!" to which Orso explains to the other monks, "he needs his mother". He also screams that he wants to "poison my body with hot dogs dipped in petrol-based mustard". A New Yorker slandering hot dogs? Now you know he's lost it! Actually, I'm pretty sure no Italian screenwriter would ever write this for an American character and that Thomas took some liberties with the line. Thomas has been a vegetarian since 1967 and promotes a vegan lifestyle on his official website. But that's ok, PMT, we forgive you. Call us?

 Anyway, this  gives the boys a good excuse to take a pilgrimage into the wild jungles of South America, or at least a couple of dusty roads, to visit an exorcist, and uhhhh, "renew their faith". Their excursion leads them to visit a blind self-proclaimed exorcist (Ty Hardin), who must really have the lord guiding his hands as he sports a perfectly trimmed beard and a neatly drawn cross on his forehead! In addition to that, the blind man can literally point them in the exact direction of the nearest resort, which is conveniently loaded with bikini'd babes and fruity drinks - because, as we all know, you can't properly enjoy a sabbatical without the presence of a small paper parasol in your beverage. And the hot babes don't hurt either. Unfortunately, their fun - err, I mean the "expiation of their sins" - is brought to a halt by news of Don Alfonso's plan for the imminent destruction of San Rolando.

On the way back to Father Zach's bamboo and orchid filled hell, we learn that before being thrown in jail, Father Orso / Bob was an honest business man, who made a living running a nightclub in the city with a woman named Mary. After refusing to sell out to crime boss Don Alfonso Santillana, the cops find a stash of drugs in the nightclub leading to Bob's trip to la pinta and the loss of both his club and his woman, the latter of which reluctantly accepts the job of Santillana's servant. Once back in the village it's time to prepare for war! Well, primitive, cartoon war anyway. In addition to setting traps like a big pot of cooked beans laced with hot peppers, we also get harmless fun like bamboo cannons that shoot coconuts, buckets of goo set above doorways and pools of liquid that set people on fire! Yep, harmless fun. This primitive warfare culminates with a wild and woolly donnybrook between Father Orso and Don Alfonso - or rather between Bud Spencer and Richard Lynch's stunt doubles. No matter, it's still one I can scratch off of my "Bud Spencer Wish List." Let's see, we've had Bud Spencer punching Michael Berryman, check. Bud Spencer knocking out David Hess, check. And Bud Spencer suplexing Richard Lynch? Hell yeah, check!

While not the masterwork that EL DORADO was, this is one of the better episodes, that is once again packed with subplots and sports a great leading villain. I have never seen anything that Richard Lynch has been in where he isn't giving 100%. The only times I have seen him not give 100% is when he's giving 110% (see the 1993 Lovecraft anthology NECRONOMICON for a perfect example of this). Here, even though he is essentially playing a cartoon villain and doesn't have a whole lot to do before the end of the movie, he is still completely into the part and brings everything in the production up a notch. It's also great fun to see the recently passed Western legend Orison Whipple Hungerford Jr. (that's Ty Hardin to you) pop up for a bit part in this one. I wish he had a larger part, maybe having him exorcise someone, or better still, gone on to help wage war on Don Alfonso with Orso and Zach, but I guess that would be too much awesomeness for one episode.

In addition to the moments that have more *ahem* broad-appeal, such as a brawl in a strip-club, there are lots of great little, more subtle moments in this one. For instance, when the villagers are freaking out about Santillana's plan to drive in some bulldozers and flatten everything in sight, the wild-man, Father Torment is the one who advises them to remain calm. Also, there's a nice little bit where Father Zach is furious that their jeep broke down on the way to the exorcist and a, unbeknownst to them, corrupt priest drives past telling the boys that he is too busy to help.
Zach: "He's a priest!!"
Orso: "Maybe he's as much of a priest as we are monks. Are you a monk?"
Zach: "No."
Orso: "Neither am I." (shrugs)
It probably loses a little something in translation, but it's little character bits like this that really make the series fun.

Interestingly, there's a little bit of discussion within the VJ ranks as to which episode actually ends the series. This is technically the sixth and final broadcast episode, but it may have been shown out of order in the same way that EXTRA LARGE was. More on that in our final installment, DOLLARS.

Thursday, February 15, 2018


We are over the halfway mark with the WE ARE ANGELS series and things are going pretty good. To bring readers up to speed, the series follows Father Orso (Bud Spencer) and Father Zach (Philip Michael Thomas), two escaped convicts who are posing as monks in Costa Rica. So far we’ve had the “jailbreak/set up” episode, the “rags to riches to rags” episode, and the “search for ancient treasure” episode. And all three were pretty damn entertaining. Nothing can break this streak outside of a “precocious kid” episode and we won’t be having one of...oh, what’s that? This episode centers on a kid? Argh!

Episode 4 opens with our counterfeit clergy penniless once again. They figure to earn a quick $500 by playing ship captain McQuade and a group of his fellow Scotsmen in a game of baseball. Of course, he shows up with a team so Central American that it looks like a modern MLB roster. Orso and Zach’s team is getting whomped until Orso decides to beat up the entire opposing team with each knockout seemingly counting as a score (final score: 24-20!). You know, I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I’m pretty sure knockouts only count when the ball leaves the park; however, after the game McQuade hands them the $500 and says they won it “fair and square.” Jesus, I guess I really don’t know much about baseball. Just so you know this is all supposed to be funny, director Ruggero Deodato fills this opening ten minutes with whistles, drum thumps and even Father Torment trying to make a catch hitting a wall and falling through leaving a human cutout. How do you say Looney Tunes in Italian?

The plot proper for this episode begins with the new village shaman praying for rain. He succeeds instead in bringing down a private plane with one Wolfgang Galveston III (Andrew Taft), the young son of the richest man in Central America, on board. As the captain calls out a mayday, it is overheard in the prison by warden Delgado (David Hess), who figures this is an ample opportunity to extort some cash out of the businessman. Naturally, the kid and his manservant Edward are found by the monks and given care back at San Rolando. Sensing the heat is going to come down on this place, Orso and Zach look to split but find the kid makes them an offer they can’t refuse - a lot of money from his dad for his safe return. So soon Orso, Zach, Wolfgang, Edward and a couple of guides are trudging through the jungle.

As evidenced by the previous three episodes, Deodato and his scriptwriters want as many things going on at once and the events here are no exception. Delgado and a group of his men raid the village, but find the child gone. Meanwhile, our leads are captured by a group of cannibal headhunters in the jungle and placed in giant cauldrons to be cooked. Well, that is until it is revealed the cannibals are actors as part of a “holiday tour” booking for a nearby resort. Jeez, I never knew Sandals offered a CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST package. Back in their element of pretty ladies and colorful drinks, Orso and Zach take a shine to the kid, even with a heartwarming scene of Orso teaching the kid how to swim. It is apparently a task so laborious that it causes Orso’s outfit to change mid-scene.

Of course, Delgado and his men aren’t too far behind. After a rather drunken night, Orso and Zach get one upped and Delgado puts the kid in kidnapped. His plan is to extort Galveston by saying that outlaw revolutionary leader Napoleon Duarte (Kabir Bedi) has the kid and is demanding a $2 million dollar ransom for the revolution. BUT WAIT! What he doesn’t realize is that Napoleon and his right hand man just happen to be eavesdropping in the same hotel lobby when is trying to con Galveston’s men. In the meantime, Delgado is keeping the kid at a local whorehouse. This leads to an awkward scene where the kid hustles the ladies of the night with some magic dice and they all sulk when told to get to work. Also, Delgado’s watchman offers Wolfgang the following life lesson: “Wine, tobacco, and women make a hombre their slave. He quickly ends up in the grave.” It should be noted he delivers this sage advice while holding a beer. Orso and Zach decide to enlist the help of their friend Sagreste (Max Herbrechter) to save the kid and hopefully get some of the ransom criss crossing town in a briefcase. As you can guess, this involves lots of twists and turns as money slips in and out of their fingers.

Well, they can’t all be winners. I think VJ head honcho Tom summed it up best when he wrote in an email, “I woke up this morning and I barely remember anything about the movie that I watched last night! I don't know whether I'm going senile or it just wasn't very memorable.” To paraphrase A GUY NAMED JOE (1943), “You’re not senile.” The fourth episode isn’t bad by any means, but it definitely isn’t memorable and mostly by the numbers. But let’s keep things positive and focus on the good and fun aspects. We do get the return of David Hess as the villainous prison warden and get a nice wrap up for his character. There is also a bit where he threatens to slice up the kid, resulting in a perhaps unplanned LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972) homage. I also liked how the story culminated with our leads finally having some money, only to have Napoleon, the revolutionary thorn in their sides, show up to claim “his” money. It is a recurring gag over the series, so you start to anticipate it. I also appreciated the full circle ending. Orso and Zach finally have enough money for their plane and are making their long-delayed getaway. Unfortunately for them, Edward has become the new shaman of San Rolando and his first prayer for rain leads to their plane crashing right back in the village they are trying to escape. In keeping with the over-the-top comedic tone, they stumble up into the village covered in black soot. Hell, I’m shocked Deodato didn’t have them blow smoke out of their mouths.

The one big takeaway from this episode is it finally solves the “Bud Spencer and Philip Michael Thomas in dreadlocks” mystery. Back in the day the series was advertised in Variety with a full page ad of Spencer and Thomas in dreadlock wigs. WTF? Turns out it is a scene where they try to blend in during a local carnival parade. Yes, because nothing blends in more than a white guy Bud’s size in dreadlocks. So Tom gets Erik Estrada and Richard Liberty and I get Bud Spencer in dreadlocks. I’ll take it.

Monday, February 12, 2018

This Bud's for You: WE ARE ANGELS: IN SEARCH OF EL DORADO (1997)

After a rather leisurely first two episodes, ANGELS starts to fire on all cylinders with this third feature-length episode. Man, if you thought the last episode had a lot going on in it, put on your Chuck Norris Action Pants, because this one is almost impossible to synopsize without leaving out huge chunks of plot, action and great little character bits.

We last saw our ersatz ascetics going from rags to riches several times over and are now back in their cheery and colorful monastic hell. While Father Zach (Philip Michael Thomas) manages to fill his time lusting after Lupita (Mariana Mora) and teaching the village kids about America ("there are, more or less, 51 states"), Father Orso (Bud Spencer) has been tipped over the edge by Father Torment (veteran stuntman Mike Kirton), who is punishing himself for his sins by going fishing in a stream where there are no fish.

Father Raphael (Cesar Melendez), our deaf mute, has returned from a sabbatical in the jungle with the head-hunter tribe, the Niquoias, who, as native lore has it, have the duty of guarding the location of the treasure of the legendary lost city of El Dorado. Raphael's passion lies in painting landscapes and the paintings he returns with are striking in their resemblance to descriptions of the entrance to that very same loot stash. Of course we don't find this out until Father's Orso (which, amusingly, is Latin for "bear") and Zach have sold the paintings to rich heiress Michela (Nikhila Bedi), the niece of treasure hunter Grazziano (Erik Estrada), whose father had spent his final days in search of El Dorado, before dying in a plane crash in the jungle. Grazziano, frustrated by the fact that his niece holds the purse strings, has made finding El Dorado his ambition too, hiring the benign professor Clausewitz (Hill & Spencer regular Richard Liberty) and a murderous henchman, Rupert (Italian genre vet Antonio Marsina) to assist him in this goal. Got all that? Keep up, we have to keep moving here!

Rupert infiltrates the monastery (which strangely looks identical to Castle Neuschwanstein!) that has the 500 year-old diary of Bartolome de las Casas. Legend has it that the book describes the location of the treasure and contains a map showing its exact location. After going through the trouble of snatching the book and killing a monk in the process, Rupert and Grazziano discovers that the map is missing! There is only one thing to do - find the priest who painted the fabled land and Shanghai him. Once they have infiltrated the village and kidnapped Father Raphael, Orso and Zach set out on a dual purpose mission: rescue Father Raphael from Grazziano and rescue themselves from poverty!

There is so much going on in this episode, it was almost impossible to narrow everything down into a coherent synopsis. In addition to the above, there are multiple kidnappings, several double-crosses, the discovery of skeletal remains, a knockdown, drag-out pizzeria brawl, a hot air balloon ride, a hot air balloon crash, Father Orso trying to teach sex education to the village kids and even a wild drunken party in which our pious padres get likkered up on Johnny Walker (without Orso and Zach) and of course must atone for their night of sinning by being completely hung over and miserable the next day. It's almost like the writers had all these great ideas from a brainstorming session and suddenly realized that they were only doing six episodes and had to squeeze in all of their ideas that they had planned for ten episodes. After the first leisurely paced episodes, this is like setting a Bugatti Veyron on launch control.

One of the great things about this entry is the fact that pretty much all of the regulars get a chance to do their thing. Probably my favorite side character is Father Torment, who is shown in the first episode a has having taken gleeful self-flagellation to the next level with a room filled with instruments of torture which are his atonement for his evenings of sipping expensive cognac while relaxing in a silk robe. Also returning is the Scottish steamboat captain McQuade (Alfie Wise) who realizes the error of hiring his boat and services out to Grazziano after being tied up with his first mate, Hawkeye. Coming to the conclusion that Grazziano's men are definitely going to kill them he expresses this fact while Hawkeye is trying to remain positive. McQuade then tells him that he was going to make him a partner in the business to which the Hawkeye replies "now I know we're gonna die." There's also a great scene where the villains are trying to get Father Raphael to talk by hanging him upside-down over a snapping crocodile. Of course Father Raphael is mute, which makes our villains scratch their heads over how such a little monk can be such a hard man to crack.
This week's villain, played by the man who will always be, in my mind, riding the highways of California, is Erik Estrada. Estrada also appeared Enzo G. Castellari's amazing, almost proto-PM Entertainment, sci-fi/action film LIGHT BLAST (1985) and about a decade later Castellari cast him in not one, but two episodes of EXTRA LARGE. Here Estrada keeps it low key until his intellectual archaeologist cover is blown and then we get some wonderfully manic gnashing of those pearly white teeth. Also a guaranteed show in a Miami lensed Bud Spencer vehicle is Richard Liberty, who is probably best known as the mad scientist, Dr. Logan, in George Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD (1985). Somewhat appropriately, Liberty's final film was Antonio Margheriti's VIRTUAL WEAPON (1997), a Terence Hill / Marvin Hagler (yes, the Marvin Hagler) team-up shot in... you guessed it, Miami. I'm pretty sure the Italian film and television industry paid for the houses that many Miami cast and crew own.

Aside from the usual suspects, you never know who is going to show up in these series'. This time out, we get the ultra-prolific French actor Philippe Leroy, who shows up here giving a wonderfully eccentric performance as a crazed leader of a group of jungle pirates who have been making a bad rap for the Niquoias, blaming them for the deaths of those who hunt the treasure. These little guest appearances make watching these series' even more fun than they already are. I actually try not to read the opening credits just so I can be surprised by a familiar face popping up.

Interestingly, the basis for the this adventure is the very real 16th century Dominican friar BartolomĂ© de las Casas. De las Casas was Spanish born, but immigrated to Haiti where he became a land and slave owner, actively oppressing and enslaving the natives until a group of Dominicans arrived and were outraged by the sadistic abuse and slaughter of the indigenous population. After being denied confession, de las Casas decided to fight for the rights of the people and eventually became a Dominican monk himself. The old joke, told back in the '80s when quitting smoking became fashionable, "the only thing worse than a smoker is a non-smoker" applies here. He became a zelot fighting against the slavers with such passion that he is a revered name in the Southern Americas.

The idea that de las Casas wrote a diary even connected to the location of the treasure of El Dorado is utterly fabricated, but the screenwriters Sandro Moretti, Alessandro Capone and Lorenzo De Luca (who also worked on EXTRA LARGE) wisely make sure to inform the audience, who may find this connection to be offensive, that de las Casas had not stolen the treasure, but was safeguarding it for the people. Uh huh. Just like the Vatican does.

Amusingly, the discovery of the treasure is highlighted by a massive golden idol of Bartolome de las Casas that looks incredibly just like Father Orso. Honestly, I would give up a month's pay for a replica of that idol to put in my living room. Seriously. PM me.